Social Plastic: What is it?

Credit: Twitter

Plastic can be a good alternative to diamonds, because it also seems to last forever! We are lucky that plastic was not invented during the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s time. If it were used and dumped into our oceans, like it is today, then we would still find those plastics, some 450 years later!

Plastic pollution in the oceans is a huge problem, especially in Asia. One garbage truck full of plastic enters the ocean every minute! All of this impacts marine life. Whales, dolphins and turtles eat plastic bags floating in the water, mistaking them for food. It then blocks their breathing passages and chokes them. Can you imagine anything more cruel? This garbage also impacts us humans. Some of it floats back to the shore and collects there. It is also in our food chain. 

The Source of the Problem: 80% of the plastic waste problem comes from developing countries where poverty is a major crisis. When you are not sure if you will have a decent meal the next day or a roof over your head, would you think about proper plastic waste segregation and recycling? Not so much. So what happens to all the plastic waste? It is dumped into the ocean. China has the biggest problem, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Developed countries contribute to this problem. Hard-to-recycle plastics are sent to developing countries to dispose of, where it collects in landfills and on shores.  So the problem is not solved, it is just passed on. In May, there was a conference in Geneva to discuss new rules against dumping plastic. You can read more about it if you click on this link. 

What is the Solution? Solving the world’s plastic waste problem is no small feat. Plastic Bank, a Vancouver based company, has taken a stab at it. Bounties Network is also involved in something similar. These efforts reward local residents for collecting plastics from the beach or from houses or the streets. The locals hand their haul in to local collection centres. The plastics are weighed and checked for quality, and Plastic Bank and Bounties Network pay these locals for their plastic catch, and then recycle the plastic.

Wait a minute: In such poor communities, many people don’t have bank accounts. So how do they get paid for their hard work? Some are paid through cryptocurrency, others in cash.

What is Cryptocurrency? It is digital money that depends on secret codes to make money transfer safe. This is an alternative to using cash or credit cards. Bitcoin is the most popular example of cryptocurrency. Others are Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash and Ripple. You can find out more about cryptocurrencies in this link. 

How is Cryptocurrency Being Used Here? Based on the amount of plastic collected, digital tokens are awarded to people in their accounts. With these, they can buy things like school tuition, wifi, medical insurance, cell phone minutes, electricity, cooking fuel and stoves. Of course there need to be stores that accept this kind of payment!

What Happens to plastic that is collected? It is sorted and sold to companies who use it to make new products. This is called Social Plastic as the effort behind this recycling rewards the poor for their efforts, and results in a cleaner ecosystem for so many. 

Henkel packaging some household products with social plastic

Is anyone using this recycled plastic? The company Henkel uses Social Plastic to make detergent bottles. Marks and Spencers uses it to make its shopping bags. Shell, the energy company, invests in creating recycling infrastructure where it doesn’t exist. Recycling infrastructure is where the collection, sorting and reprocessing of plastics happens. 

TIP ALERT! The next time you buy any product, look for Social Plastic on the label. You can then make an ocean of a difference!

Vaijayanti is a writer, a nature enthusiast and an amateur wildlife photographer. She hopes her virtual pen and lens can make the world a better place

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